Sleep & Safety
Sleeping in a van is generally not an issue for van lifers. There will always be some areas that are not safe, but most of the time, you will have nothing to worry about. If your van has decent door locks, and your van doesn’t scream “this is my house,” you can sleep easy.
Although, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so having a lockbox to store passports, money, etc. is always good for peace of mind. Stealth van living is a skill that you will pick up as you continue on your journey, and will become vitally important when traveling to foreign places.
Before embarking on your journey, it’s a good idea to take your van to a shop to have it inspected by a professional. Unless you’re a mechanic, you’re going to be kicking yourself if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Also, learning the basics of car/van repair is going to save you a lot of hassle and keep you safe. Udemy has a beginners guide to automotive repair that is really helpful. We also have an article with some great tips for tuning up your van before embarking on your trip, along with how to keep it in check while on the road.
Having AAA is very helpful as well. Our friends Irie to Aurora have the premier membership, and once got a tow 180 miles in the snow on a mountain in southern Oregon. Pretty handy!
Places to Sleep in your Van
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, National Forests, and National Grasslands
Just about all of these areas will allow free dispersed camping, meaning you can camp outside of the designated campground. However, there are certain guidelines you must follow. You can read those here: Dispersed Camping Guidelines
Some City Parks, County Parks, and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA)
These areas will allow free parking. If you are camping in a remote area, you will have a greater chance of getting in free, but this will, of course, vary by location.
Most Walmarts are available for free overnight parking, but check this list to make sure the one you’re staying at won’t get you in trouble: Walmarts with no overnight parking.
Hotel and Motel Parking Lots
Don’t stay at a hotel or motel that is too big because they will have security checking license plates. But don’t stay at one that is too small because you will stick out like a sore thumb.
If an apartment complex doesn’t require parking passes, this is a golden opportunity. People are just going to assume that you live in there.
As long as you don’t get in the way of anyone in need of immediate medical attention, you will be able to sleep easy.
Businesses Open 24 hours
You will want to be careful with small businesses, especially if you have a van that is clearly used for sleeping purposes.
If you are staying the night at a rest area, you will want to make sure they have 24-hour security. This is likely not your best option, because they are much more prone to robberies. Rest areas are typically far from towns, and are right off of highways, so it’s an easy escape for criminals.
Bars, Nightclubs, and Casinos
People often leave their cars at bars, casinos, and nightclubs overnight when they have had too much to drink, so it’s a great opportunity for van lifers to blend in with the crowd.
If there are any airports close to where you’re traveling, this is an easy spot to sleep in your van.
Churches are easy to come by and typically pretty quiet.
Use a websites/apps like AllStays, freecampsites.net or iOverlander to find free camping spots in your area.
Friends or Family
If you know anybody in the general area that you are staying in, we’re sure they will be happy to allow you to park your van in their driveway for a night or two.
Sleep and Safety Tips
- Both of our friends @irietoaurora and @traveltiph mentioned that the best places to sleep are in nature. You’ll be the safest, you’ll wake up with a good view, and you’ll feel less like a hobo.
- if you’re stealth van living in an urban area, it is best to get fully ready for bed (ie brush your teeth, make your bed, close your blackout blinds) in a different location to where you are sleeping. Even around the corner is better then nothing! That way when you are fully ready for bed you can move to the spot you want to sleep for the night and jump straight in to bed, making it much less likely anyone will notice that you are in fact living inside your van.
- Avoid sleeping in places that have evidence of partying, such as beer bottles and garbage on the ground. Sleeping in these places will increase the chance of someone attempting to break in. If people are frequently partying in an area, there is a good chance the cops will be monitoring it, and they could give you the boot, assuming it’s illegal to sleep there.
- Be aware of your position. Be able to locate it on a map. It’s best to use your phone to drop a pin with the “mark my location” feature on Apple maps or “set as parking location” on Google maps.
- If you or a friend/family member is ever lost, you can use the “share my location” feature on maps as well.
- Big cities are typically not very van friendly, but if you do decide to sleep in the city, look for places with street lights and security cameras if possible.
- Consider staying at a location no more than 1 night in a row. Thieves will notice your sleeping trend and may take advantage of you the following night.